The Dangers of Aggressive Monetization in Gaming (Part 1)

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I vividly remember a time, a few years ago, when I would go to my local EB Games, put down my $60, and buy a game. I’d take this unsealed package, go home, and pop it into my PS3, excited to play this amazing thing that I had been anticipating for so long. And then, after having played anywhere from ten to sixty hours of this game, having beaten it and all of its content, I would learn of a new thing I could buy, maybe for seven dollars, maybe for ten. A new adventure, a new challenge, one that was created for the players who had conquered what came before. Downloadable Content, or DLC, was used to enhance an experience for the player. Once upon a time, I enjoyed it.

Now DLC is the bane of my fucking existence.

On March 3rd, Activision, the publisher of the “Call of Duty” franchise, announced that players can now buy, for real money, a loot drop in Advanced Warfare. They are not the first company to do this, and they will not be the last, but fuck them if I’m not going to put up a fight before this shit gets out of control.

“Mass Effect 3” was the first game that I played that had this bullshit. Instead of a real progression system, ME3 instead opted for the booster pack method – new characters, weapons, gear, and consumables (one use items) were unlocked by opening them in “packs” that were purchased with credits, which in turn were earned by beating various difficulties of wave defense / hoard mode gameplay. However, you could also acquire these packs by purchasing them with real money, a feature which was conveniently not present in the game’s multiplayer demo.

On launch, this wasn’t a big deal, because like most rarity distributions, there were more commons than uncommons and rares. “Spectre Packs” would guarantee at least one rare item, and could be easily bought after a round of Gold difficulty. But here are some details which reveal just how slimy this practice is.

Firstly, everything could be unlocked five times. Yes, five times. Wanted to customize your character? You needed to unlock the ability to do that. Guns were even worse, as you could unlock the exact same gun up to ten times. Repeat unlocks clogged up the packs, meaning that rare you just got was probably just the same Krogan you already have, and have gotten three times now.

New characters were even worse. You could have completely acquired all customization options for a specific character, but you could keep getting them. Just grinded Gold for credits and got a pack? Congrats, here’s your sixty-seventh Drell Adept.

Then, when the DLC started coming out, BioWare decided to make all the DLC items rare. Suddenly, there were more rares than commons and uncommons combined. This slowed the unlock progression for most players down to a crawl. If you wanted to play the higher difficulties – and you did, because Bronze and Silver difficulties provided nowhere near the amount of credits you needed to progress at a reasonable pace – you needed a good set of weapons. Except that the best weapons were “Ultra Rare,” and the odds of unlocking them so minuscule that there was no way for their incredibly smart player-base to figure out how to unlock these guns at a reasonable rate. BioWare, on their part, would remain silent on this issue to this day, but were incredibly adept at “fixing” things that allowed players to farm maps to increase their credit intake. Abilities in game became so divorced from their Single Player counterparts as to not interfere with BioWare’s ability to generate a profit from their booster packs. It was disgusting.

Mass Effect 3 is not a Free-To-Play game. It’s a full priced, triple A game, that used an aggressive “skinner box” design to farm money from its players. I promised myself to never again play a game that featured this disgusting design.

Then, came Call of Duty.

Call of Duty:Advanced Warfare has a somewhat similar design. While the base versions of all guns are available simply by leveling up, the truly great versions of those weapons are unlocked in random “supply drops.” These drops contain weapon variants, gear to customize your character, care packages that you can use once, and brief moments of Double XP. However, unlike ME3’s boosters, which always contained five items, Advanced Warfare’s boosters don’t always have three items. Sometimes, they only have one.

But that’s not all. Supply Drops run on an unlock timer, where a player is, hypothetically, given one every 45 minutes of in-game time. Except that people have reported that players who are new or less skilled are being given Supply Drops more frequently, which also contain better weapons. I can personally attest to the fact that, with a Kill / Death ratio of 1.2, I would get Supply Drops less often, and the ones that I did get, contained an abundance of clothing and versions of three guns in particular, the MK14, AMR9, and Ameli. But when I had a 1.14 KD for a time, suddenly I was getting Supply Drops every 20 minutes, and got a lot of Elite guns.

This kind of disgusting practice is pushed on gamers by corporate interests, in order to suck from us all of our money, but for less and less original content. How many games use grindy, RNG based unlocks nowadays? Almost all of them. Game companies truly believe that some players have more time than money, and are willing to part with one, or both, of those things, in order to “experience” the “complete” game.

Microtransactional DLC is ruining video games. Triple A games now cost more than ever, for less and less content, and this is the gaming evolution? Fucking pitiful.

In Part 2, I will cover how the monetization of gaming is cannibalizing its own audience for the sake of profit, and at the expense of the medium’s potential future. Also, I will slay the sacred cow that is Hearthstone.

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